Antarctic Diary: 22nd March – Gold Harbour & Sandebugten

Position at 0700 on 22nd March
Latitude: 54°37’5” S
Longitude: 035°50’5” W
Course: 242°
Speed: 7.7 kts
Barometer: 1012 hpa
Air temp: 0° C
Sea temp: 1.5° C
Wind Speed: SSE 7
Penguin count: countless!
Whale count: also countless!!

The morning brings us gorgeous weather and more golden opportunities to record educational content for Upschool! The Zodiacs take us to the aptly named Gold Harbour. The beach is absolutely crowded with King penguins, their vibrant golden beaks and crowns glinting at us in the morning sunlight. The King penguin colony here is the largest in South Georgia with an estimated 120,000 breeding couples. In the distance we could see 2196m high Mt Patterson with its icy caps, fed by the Bertrab Glacier. Like many glaciers in the region, this on is on the retreat due to climate change.

Basking in the sun, with their huge bodies taking up quite a major proportion of the shoreline, are a wallow of elephant seals. Occasionally they slowly open an eye or two to track our movements, but mostly they lay lazily, preferring to conserve their energy. These elephant seals are considered one of the greatest divers on earth – in pursuit of food, they can dive up to 2km whilst holding their breath for up to two hours at a time. Further along, we do see a couple of juvenile elephant seals play-fighting in preparation to becoming a beach master in their older age.

The King penguins casually stroll by, and we set up nearby, careful to keep some distance. With the waves crashing on the left of us and the seals lounging around behind us, we record a video for Young Art USA. Jordan chats with Gavin about the migration of elephant seals and how this can be mapped using tea-stained paper.

The penguins seem to show genuine curiosity in our recordings and so Gavin takes out the first children’s book he wrote – ‘Are These Your Glasses?’, a story about Sergio, a bullied penguin from Antarctica. A class of penguins gather around him, listening intently to the tale and trying to get a sneak peek of their penguin pals on the page.

Back on board, the afternoon begins with an informative lecture from Pat about evolution and physiology – how marine mammals have evolved over time. As evening approaches, the Captain takes us on a ship cruise past Sandebugten and Nordenskjold Glacier while we reminisce over the day and prepare for tomorrow’s journey to one of the largest King penguin colonies on Earth.

See you tomorrow and thanks for reading!

Tanya, Gavin, Graeme, Jordan & Matt